Remembering Grandpa at Omaha Beach
Simply said, Normandy will forever be a part of my top 5 travel experiences. There, the impact of D-Day revealed itself not in textbook pages and movie dialogue, but through a live scene of reverence and remembrance of the sacrifices of more than 9,000 Allied soldiers. Folded into a landscape of 1940’s France, we witnessed the lasting legacy left by the young men who spilled upon Normandy’s beaches to liberate Europe against Nazi occupation 70 years ago.
I always felt a sense of pride that my grandfather fought in World War II. Lucky for us all, he arrived at Omaha Beach nearly a month after D-Day. A few years before he passed away, my family sat with him as he poured through war medals and photos. He looked at one vague black and white image and instantly the memory came back to him. Was this how every memory of the war was for him? Was his quiet demeanor shielding a field of recollections still crisp in his mind?
I haphazardly recorded only but a bit of that conversation. Recently, upon returning home from France with a newfound fascination with my grandpa’s experience in the war, I uncovered the footage. At the end of the video he speaks about boarding the boat in Marseilles, France to sail home after the war. Such joy and relief he must have felt, for he smiled and laughed in delight remembering all the dogs and animals they snuck on the ship to take back home.
A few weeks ago, I perused through letters he wrote to his mother and sister from Europe. His tone remained light and upbeat; in one letter he shares that the Coca-Cola in Belgium tastes just like the Coke at home and in another requests candy and coffee. He explored Paris and climbed the Eiffel Tower with a Parisian woman and told his then girlfriend about it — then expressed to his mother that he probably shouldn’t have told her that. Past his mature penmanship, I read his youth in those lines. At 21, he was traveling the world, but fighting a World War to do so.
On the 6th of June, we drove down a piece of coastline to Omaha Beach late in the afternoon, the day’s ceremonies still going strong. As we looked out to a tranquil beach and sea it was difficult to imagine our surroundings as “Bloody Omaha.” Something caught our eye near the water— a statue, so I believed. Sand in our toes, we inched closer to find not a statue, but a young boy dressed in combat gear, holding steadfast to the American flag and saluting out to sea. The presence of this Swiss-American there in the sand, holding tight to the flag waving proudly in the strong breeze, said it all.
He caught the attention of a female soldier, who so moved went over to meet him and salute by his side for a moment. She later returned to shake his hand and offer him a small token of gratitude for his act of respect for the sacrifices made in these waters.
Away from the coastline, we stumbled upon a base camp reenactment site lined with tents and men tinkering with their military vehicles. We at once noticed a party of sorts taking place in the center of the camp. Cautiously, like a trio crashing a party we sauntered up to the main table. Immediately we were handed glasses of champagne and offered little sandwiches. Of course the Americans were welcome at the party! In the sunshine we sipped the bottles of bubbles dry and mingled with the many nationalities present. This celebration of sacrifice and freedom was the perfect end to the anniversary of a poignant day in history. That’s a memory I am thankful to have.